Monday, March 4, 2013

Nahum 1:3-5

Nahum 1:3-5 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it.

1:3-5 these declarations exhibit several things. Firstly, God is in complete control of Nature. Though he has set things in motion with regularity and, the so-called Laws of Nature, he is not the Deist’s god who wound up the clock and let it run without any further input. Hebrews 1:3 says that he upholds all things by the word of his power. I’ve always been fascinated by that expression. It is not “power of his word” but “word of his power.” That is to say spoken power – power articulated. Jonathan Edwards wrote of this sustaining power of God as being the force that holds all things together, the force which keeps the atoms splitting apart. Secondly, we see how intimately related God is to his creation – the seas, the plant, the mountains, etc. Thirdly, we are shown that natural disasters are truly “acts of God.” He frequently uses the weather and the forces of nature to punish. Floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, etc. are frequently mentioned in Scripture as God’s punishment upon sinful people. This verse specifically states that whirlwinds (i.e. tornadoes) are his “ways.” Ways of what? Why, ways of punishment, of course. Verse 3a says, “He will not leave the guilty unpunished.” Then it says that natural disasters are his “way.”

I wonder if it isn’t a tad Marcionic that we, as believers, no longer like to think of God’s sovereignty over the nations being evidenced in His control over the weather. We have sold our souls to the meteorologists and thus can no longer picture God using famine, drought, wildfires, floods, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes as His tools of judgment. I can find no clue in Scripture that NT teaching implies that God’s control of the forces of nature diminished after the coming of Christ or that He simply wound up the clock of nature and let it go. Had our forefathers experienced Katrina, Andrew, the Bay Area earthquake or the attacks of 9/11, there is no doubt, nor should there be, that they would have seen them as a clear sign of Divine displeasure.

Another thing that comes to mind as I read this passage is how far this description is from what we hear proclaimed of God in Christian pulpits week after week. Serious consideration of this and similar passages would go a long way toward sobering us up and removing the levity from our midst. Tolkien complained that many people talked of God as if he were the “Lord Mayor.” A clear intellectual grasp of his power would instill in us that “fear of the Lord” of which the Scriptures so often speak. I wonder how many of us are prepared to affirm that drought, wildfires, flashfloods, hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards, as well as terrorist attacks, fires and other assorted disasters, truly come from the hand of God as punishment? Might we not be guilty of a Marcionic view of God if we can say, “Yes, in the Old Testament, but not anymore?”

Speaking of Deism, it might be pertinent to note there is also a type of Deism when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. BB Warfield wrote, “Genetically speaking, Pelagianism was the daughter of legalism; but when it itself conceived, it brought forth an essential deism. It is not without significance that its originators were, ‘a certain sort of monks,” that is, laymen of ascetic life. From that point of view the Divine law appears as a collection of separate commandments, moral perfection as a mere complex of separate virtues, and a distinct value as a meritorious demand on Divine approval is ascribed to each good work or attainment in the exercises of piety. It was because this was essentially his point of view that Pelagius could regard man’s powers as sufficient to the attainment of sanctity, and could even assert it to be possible for man to do more than is required of him. But, this is an essentially deistic conception of man’s relations to his Maker. God has endowed His creature with a capacity or ability for action; and it is for him to use it. Man is thus a machine, which, just because it is made well, needs no Divine interference for its right working; and the Creator, having once framed him and endowed him with the ability, henceforth leaves the willing and the being to him.”

Why do I think this is such a powerful blast at Pelagianism? Think about what deism presupposes. It postulates a god who has created everything with built-in abilities and therefore it is inconsistent with his nature to intervene. For the god of deism to intervene, miraculously or any other way, is to admit a flaw in his creation that needs his attention. Miracle in Deism is always remedial. Miracle in Scripture is revelatory.

What does that have to do with the doctrine of salvation? At this point Pelagianism, and all its daughter systems, applies the same logic as deism. They assert that man has the innate ability to use his will to “decide” or “accept” Christ savingly. Indeed they see no value in a salvation in which the recipient does not actively participate. What else is this but the deistic assumption that God does not need to intervene in His creation because He created it with innate capacities and abilities? Here’s the rub: No Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian would ever profess to hold to the deistic conception of God. Indeed, modern Semi-Pelagians specialize in teaching God’s active participation and work in the world’s affairs (though certainly not to the same extent as the Reformation doctrine of the Sovereignty of God), nevertheless, they unconsciously operate on deistic principles when dealing with the doctrine of salvation.

God’s sovereign disposal of all events for His ultimate purposes is called “Providence.” The notion of Providence is actually a lot bigger in scope than most of us realize. The Heidelberg Catechism (which just celebrated it 450th birthday Jan. 19, 1563) defines it this way: “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” For most of us Providence would look something like this: I was headed to the airport and something unexplainable happened to my car. I ended up missing my plane, which as it turns out, crashed. Or: I was walking past a construction site in a brick fell from 10 stories up, missed my head by inches and dropped on the ground. But we do not consider that had we made that flight and died in the crash, or had the brick bashed our skulk in, this too would have been Providence. Providence and sovereignty are so intimately related that they have to be thought of together. God is sovereign over all his creation and therefore in Providence rules over it and governs it exactly as he has willed to do. God’s Providence is his ruling and governing of his creation; God’s sovereignty is his right to do so.

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